Loeb one point behind Solberg

Updated: April 10, 2005, 1:57 PM ET
Associated Press

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- World champion Sebastian Loeb of France, driving a Citroen, won the Rally of New Zealand by 49.8 seconds Sunday to move into second place in the world drivers' championship.

Loeb began the day 51 seconds ahead of double world champion Marcus Gronholm and managed to nearly maintain that advantage to post his second win in four rallies this season.

Gronholm won the first three stages Sunday to cut Loeb's lead to 40.1 seconds. Loeb was 10 seconds faster than any of his rivals on the 18.49-mile final stage on the Whaanga Coast.

The win took Loeb to 25 points in the standings, only a point behind Norway's Petter Solberg, who drove his Subaru into third place, 1:08 behind Loeb and almost 10 seconds behind Gronholm.

Francois Duval of Belgium took fourth place in the second Citroen for his first points of the season, while Markko Martin of Estonia improved one place on the final day to take fifth ahead of Toni Gardemeister.

Loeb dominated the rally from the middle of the first leg Friday, when he made astute tire selections and took advantage of drying gravel roads on the stages north of Auckland.

He led by 53 seconds at the end of Day 1, maintained that lead over Gronholm and Solberg on Saturday and closed the rally Sunday with measured driving.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press